SIG session: Sleep Number sourcing manager has tips on negotiating from home in COVID-19 era

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On Thursday, SIG focused on doing procurement jobs in the coronavirus era by bringing together procurement technology experts and procurement practitioners from businesses like Sleep Number beds.

At the one-day, online “SIGnature Event,” CJ Johnson, a senior manager on Sleep Number’s indirect sourcing team, talked about how the coronavirus disruption has changed her team’s work routine and efficiency now that people work from home.

“We’ve evolved very much into a collaborative approach for negotiations,” Johnson said, "and we look for service providers and suppliers who share that same approach.”

Johnson said negotiation on video calls presented problems — especially as her team tries to stress collaboration but also maintain boundaries for corporate information.

"Information security is a huge priority for us — to have reasonable and fair risk allocation as it relates to confidentiality,” she said. “We’ve developed processes and procedures and policies that translate directly into our contracts."

Johnson joked that you can’t overcome interruptions by kids or dogs joining the call, but she has tips for sourcing teams who are negotiating in this remote environment.

Her advice:

  • Limit negotiations over video calls. They cut down on your ability to talk freely with your own team, and they can give away information via visual clues to the other party that is providing goods or services. Use conference calls when you can.
  • Have a plan for your call so everyone knows their role and so there’s less talking over one another. Know who will open the meeting, who will address Topic X, who will close the meeting.
  • Have a signal for when you’re negotiating and someone seems to be going off the track.

At Sleep Number, they instituted biweekly negotiation/collaboration meetings that are free-form sessions to discuss what works, what doesn’t work and how to make negotiations more efficient.

“Those meetings have gone so well that I’ve had requests from folks who do negotiation but aren’t on the sourcing and legal teams to participate in those meetings,” Johnson said.

To manage all of this from a contract perspective, she said everyone in the company uses a solution from Scout RFP, a Workday company. And she described how they deploy it.

“We use the chat, we use the collaboration, making sure that documents and those plans from negotiations are in projects that are in Scout so that everyone can use them and access them in a timely fashion,” Johnson said.

“We’re getting to the point now that during in those negotiations we’re live-documenting things so that we can go back and see because it’s been such a challenge.”

She said Sleep Number is planning for the COVID-19 disruption to continue so they’re thinking about how to handle that.

“We have big plans for implementing a couple of more tools and tying all those things together and tying them back to the new processes and adopting the new way of negotiating — thinking (the pandemic) is going to be long-term. Hopefully we can get back to the office to do some of that,” Johnson said. “But we need a whole new playbook to be able to do this effectively and efficiently and meet our changing risk allocation requirements and get to service providers who will collaborate and work with us on being efficient with those contracting processes.”

After the session, she told Spend Matters that the needs she sees are for help with deep vetting and requirements gathering, which could eventually help with onboarding.

On contract management, she wanted to see more useful data on an ongoing basis for areas like service provider/supplier performance, financial performance, cultural and risk alignment, and more than just vendor management.

She lauded Scout RFP’s ease of use, how it facilitates collaboration and communication — as well as how it easily provides visibility to all team stakeholders.

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